CINCINNATI — There came a point in Sean Miller’s decade at Arizona that the pleasure of coaching basketball was misplaced, that he became less conversant with his children, less present for his wife. This surely comes as no surprise to anyone who is aware of the past five years of NCAA basketball history, but this might:
It didn't come in the past five years.
There wasn’t much fun to be had once the FBI came calling on one of his assistant coaches in 2017 and the NCAA WVU vs. Pitt Rivalry Shirts enforcement people followed a while later, but as we sit over an early lunch at the First Watch restaurant in Cincinnati’s Rookwood shopping center, Miller is talking about all that came before that circumstance.
“In two years when I was at Arizona, we were 67-7 – I think 33-4 and 34-3. We lost to Wisconsin back-to-back. I never had any joy. I didn’t,” Miller told The Sporting News, recalling the 2014 and 2015 seasons, when the Wildcats lost both times in the Elite Eight. “Because it was about one thing and that is: We’ve got to get to the Final Four. We have to do something they hired us to do. I have to do something that I haven’t been able to do. And dammit, we should be able to do it. We’re a 1 seed, we’re a 2 seed. It’s kind of why you go to Arizona.
“And when it happened and we didn’t make it, instead of looking at it Delaware State Hornets shirt for what it was and seeing so much great in it, or looking at it as, ‘We’re that close. What is it we can do better, together?’ — I kind of withdrew. And I didn’t do as good a job as I was capable of doing.”
Miller ultimately had encountered more substantial problems at Arizona than failing to reach the Final Four. In September 2017, his Wildcats program became one of four in NCAA Division I to have an assistant coach arrested and charged by the federal government. Miller subsequently was charged by the NCAA, as part of the Notice of Allegations presented to the university NCAA Crewneck Sweatshirt , with failing to monitor two assistant coaches. The case against Arizona basketball that includes multiple allegations of Level I rules violations subsequently was transferred from the infractions committee to the new Independent Accountability Review Process. A ruling is expected this autumn, perhaps before Miller coaches his first game in his second lap with the Xavier Musketeers.
For now, he waits, but the process is not the same as it might have been. He is employed again, hired in March to return to coaching Xavier 13 years after he had departed to become head coach at Arizona. He is bringing a different approach to this position while trying to maintain the same degree of energy and commitment.
We don’t often get the chance to see inside the mind of a college basketball coach in this way, but the truth is, neither do they. There is little time for introspection on a coach’s schedule. There is time for self-scouting; they’ll do that because it means drilling into the details of how and why the team wins or loses, how its chemistry developed or didn’t, how re Franklin University clothes cruiting philosophy needs to change or not. That merely is an element of the mandatory obsession.
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Examining one’s approach to daily life, though? Miller got to that because he no longer had a team to coach after being dismissed by Arizona in March of 2021. He spent an entire year with no practices to run, no players to pursue, no games to sweat.
“People who go through this experience know that it can kind of change you,” Miller told TSN. “I learned how much basketball meant, in a good way. You just enjoy being part of a team. You enjoy the game. You love the game. You can get away from loving the game and just get engulfed with the job you’re involved with. Again, I’m guilty of being just completely absorbed in the job that I have – in the past – instead of just enjoying the journey and the game. I think the year off made me realize that.
“And the other part is the importance of balance. My wife and I went to so many places, and we had a great time. I went to games for the first time ever as a fan. And it’s like standing in line to get a ticket, going to the bathroom at halftime, being able to see where it’s too crowded – all the things that you don’t think about when you’re a player or a coach. It’s like, ‘Geez, this is a lot harder than I realized.’ ”
One of the realities of being in Miller’s position is the inability to talk about the situation that developed when longtime assistant coach Book Richardson – who joined Miller’s staff at Xavier in 2007 and followed him to Arizona in 2009 – was taken into custody by the FBI in September 2017 and charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, among other items.
An NCAA investigation was inevitable the moment the Bureau arrived at Richardson’s home. That was delayed by the legal process that consumed Richardson and others arrested as a product of the Justice Department’s investigation of the basketball talent game. And it was slowed, further, by an NCAA process that has always been torturously protracted, in part because that’s among the best means the membership has of punishing those it suspects break the organization’s rules.
Miller was able to remain Arizona’s coach four years after the initial news broke, but the last of those was spent serving a self-imposed postseason ban. The Wildcats won a single conference title and earned a single NCAA Tournament berth in those seasons.
Recruiting was wildly successful during that period, but it only became apparent after the fact, so to speak. His 2019-20 squad had three one-and-done freshmen selected in the NBA Draft, two in the first round, but COVID-19 wiped out their chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament.
The 2020-21 team fought through the ennui of being banned from the NCAAs and the interruptions inherent in the pandemic season to compile a 17-9 record, but those Wildcats were not allowed to compete at the Pac-12 Tournament. Five of them returned to lead the 2021-22 Wildcats, under new coach Tommy Lloyd, to dual conference championships and the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Guards Bennedict Mathurin and Dalen Terry became NBA first-round picks.
By then, Miller had recalibrated the recruiting operation at Arizona, determining it would be more productive to target players that were promising talents but not necessarily McDonald’s All-Americans. It became at least as important to scout as to recruit. Terry was ranked No. 52 in his high school class. Mathurin was No. 129. Center Christian Koloko, who became the third player taken this year in the NBA Draft second round, was No. 187.
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“It’s not that I have tremendous regret about the players we recruited, because I felt like we recruited at a high level. It was always very important to our staff,” Miller said. “But just accumulating talent and signing such-and-such a recruiting class because the three or five players, when you put them all together they become one of ‘America’s best classes’ – it isn’t always the right way of doing it.
“Because you have to take into consideration the expectations of everybody in that group, how long they’re going to be in college, how well they’ll work together – and do they really fit who I am or who we are as a program? In other words: style of play, style of coach, where we’re located and what we’re trying to accomplish. You get to a certain point where you’re so hungry to get the best players that it might not — when you add ’em all up – allow you to have the best overall program. We experienced a ton CMU Mavericks shirt of unnecessary turnover.”
That began early in his tenure, then escalated. Grant Jerrett was the No. 9 prospect in the 2012 class but turned professional after averaging just 5.2 points as a freshman. He played eight total games in the NBA. It became more problematic with such later recruits as Rawle Alkins and Kobe Simmons, who have played a combined 43 games in the league after a combined three seasons at Arizona.
“The right high school players from the United States don’t necessarily have to be McDonald’s All-Americans. If they happen to be that good – great, as long as they fit the characteristics that we’re looking for and fit into w Alabama vs. Auburn Rivalry Shirts hat we’re doing,” Miller said. “It’s more targeting 50 to 100. Dalen Terry is a great example. There wasn’t a lot of fanfare when Dalen signed with us, but he 100 percent was the right fit.”
That approach should translate well to Xavier, which has not, in the past two decades, signed a player ranked in the top 30 according to 247 Sports but still earned a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed in 2018, reached the Elite Eight three times, earned eight conference regular-season titles and 16 NCAA berths.
Miller gathered a relatively young staff to help make this work. He retained Dante Jackson, who spent four seasons as a versatile regular for the Musketeers more than a decade ago, including two with Miller as his coach. He hired recru WVU vs. Pitt Rivalry Gear iting ace Adam Cohen, who helped sign McDonald’s All-Americans in consecutive seasons, away from Stanford. He retrieved David Miller from San Jose State, where he spent his first season as an assistant coach. David is part of Sean’s coaching tree – he spent seven seasons in various staff positions at Arizona – but not his family tree.
Sean Miller has come to believe it is more important than ever for assistant coaches to remain closely connected with the players on the roster – in order for those players to remain on the roster. Retention has become essential. With the transfer portal this past spring looking like Thanksgiving eve at LaGuardia Airport, Xavier managed to retain five of last season’s top six scorers who had eligibility remaining, including big men Jack Nunge and Zach Freemantle and emerging star Colby Jones.
“If Freemantle or Colby Jones get in the portal, they can pick their schools. Or Nunge. There’s three guys right there that can play at any program in the country, I think,” Miller said. “One thing that’s different about me now, when I went to Arizona, I only had a five-year track record. It was a good track record, but it all depends on who you’re comparing yourself to. If it’s Coach (Lute) Olson, or Ben Howland at UCLA … o NCAA Spirit shirt ur way was belief without evidence.
“This time, it’s the opposite. You can start rattling off players you recruited and coached, things that have been done, everything but a Final Four. And I think, the credibility of a track record, things that happened during the 12 years I was at Arizona. And the other things the guys here at Xavier were aware of is things that happened the first time I was here.”
The coach whose program becomes enveloped in an NCAA investigation will not find sympathy or support in many places. Competitors are angry. Fans of rival teams are angry. The media are hungry to feed the story. In large part because of an ESPN report that was corrected multiple times and disputed – if not debunked — by 247 Sports, Miller received more of this antipathy than the head coaches at the other three colleges that saw assistant coaches arrested on that September day nearly five years ago. He is the only one who eventually lost his job.
There also was an FBI wiretap on which Richardson told aspiring agent Christian Dawkins that Miller had paid top prospect DeAndre Ayton $10,000 a month to choose Arizona. Richardson told Seth Davis of The Athletic for a June article those payments were, as Davis put it, “pure fabrications” and pointed out the FBI was able to subpoena the bank records of both him and Miller and produced no such evidence.
Miller’s journey into unemployment coincided with his brother, Arch, being bought out by Indiana in the spring of 2021 after the Hoosiers missed a third consecutive NCAA Tournament. So Arch chose to move his family temporarily to Tucson, which allowed them to get together to travel to a Steelers game, to explore working in the media by collaborating on podcasts for the Field of 68 Network, to spend the holidays together.
An otherwise inactive winter was jarring for Miller, who literally grew up in the game. The son of a legendary high school coach in Western Pennsylvania – John Miller won four state championships and 657 games – Sean trained to become a ballhandling wizard around the same time Tiger Woods became a golfing prodigy. Woods’ talents first were displayed to the public on the syndicated Mike Douglas Show in 1978, with Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart looking on, the same year Sean dazzled audiences with his dribbling and shooting during for a capacity crowd at Pittsburgh’s famous Dapper Dan Roundball Classic. Sean stole the show, at age 9, from Kentucky-bound Dwight “The Blur” Anderson and future TCU star Doug Arnold. Five years later, Sean guested for two segments with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show”.
It occurred to Miller last winter, “At 7 years old, I was working hard. I know that sounds funny, but from grade school to middle school to high school to playing at Pitt, and then I kind of jumped right into coaching for 29 years – that was the first time I had no responsibilities of being on a team.”
There was a value to that, starting with more time with his wife, Amy, whom he dated in high school and through college and with whom he had three sons: Austin, Cameron and Braden. When she had a public Twitter account, she named it “abballwidow”.
“I think she finally had a real person as a husband, not a head coach who’s trying to be a husband,” Sean said. “You learn you can be a great coach or you can maybe get to a Final Four and still enjoy some time with your wife, or time away, or shut your phone off – all the things someone like me, without even realizing, I just didn’t do that. Even staying in touch with people. I just checked out and I didn’t realize it.
“You do Christmas Day as a college coach, you’re worried about how your players are doing. Are they all going to come back? You want to wish them all a Merry Christmas. You’re thinking about the next practice because it’s right around the corner, and all of us have the game around the corner that we worry about.”
As pleasant as those experiences were, Miller was not looking to make that a permanent arrangement. He said he worried “every day” about whether and when he might get back into coaching. He even thought about some comments made to him by West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who also grew up as the son of a great high school coach, and considered whether he might want to try coaching at that level.
Miller said his agent team of Jimmy Sexton and Evan Daniels did an excellent job of staying in touch with him and “reassuring that there’s going to come a time when another opportunity will arrive.” And Augustana Vikings Jerseys they were right.
The ideal position developed under uncommon circumstances. After Xavier lost its first-round Big East Tournament game to Butler in overtime and fell from the vast majority of (ultimately accurate) March Madness bracket projections, the possibility of a coaching change developed. When it became obvious there was another major program intent on hiring Miller, XU’s timeline appeared to accelerate, and Travis Steele was dismissed after a first-round NIT win. Under interim coach Jonas Hayes, the Musketeers eventually won the tournament championship.
Xavier is a different program than the one Miller left in 2009, after the Musketeers lost in the Sweet 16 to Pitt. The opportunity to join the Big East Conference in 2013 expanded the potential for the program. We’ve seen Villanova reach the Final Four three times in the new Big East and twice win the NCAA championship, as well as XU earning a No. 1 seed after winning the league’s 2018 title. In other leagues, only twice had the Musketeers been as seeded as high as No. 3.
It became an opportunity for Miller to go home. He coached 10 years in Southwestern Ohio, from his two years with the Miami RedHawks to four as an assistant at Xavier and four more as a head coach. And home also meant the Big East, where he spent five years as a star point guard at Pitt. He still is fourth in career assists among the conference’s players.
“I would have never been able to predict I was coming back here. But to be able to come back here and be part of the Big East, it’s just incredible,” Miller said. “In recruiting now, it’s something I find myself always talking about. Unless you’ve played in the Big East Tournament, unless you’ve been in the Big East – and I have – it is unexplainable.
“No one had to sell me on anything. I regretted leaving Xavier. Nothing detrimental to Arizona; I loved my time there. I wish we’d done even better than we did. But there’s always been something about this place that meant a lot to me. Maybe it’s the similarities to Pittsburgh. Maybe it’s their unreal love for college basketball. I’ve always felt comfortable here. When it became apparent that I might have a chance, there was no selling.
“It was just a matter of I wanted to make sure they knew who I am, what I did, to be able to address any questions they might have about Arizona, to be able to address them honestly, in a good way, so they would know I could be the coach that would help them have a great future.”
How much of that future might be interrupted, if any, won’t be known until the future. The possibility of a suspension for Miller exists when the IARP presents its verdict. Auburn’s coach, Bruce Pearl, was docked two games of the most recent season when the case that developed from the arrest of Chuck Person, Tigers associate head coach in 2017, was adjudicated by the NCAA’s infractions committee last December.
Until the Arizona case is resolved, Miller will pour his passion into coaching the Musketeers while endeavoring to rememb Butler Bulldogs clothes er there is a world outside the game. He literally is taking time to smell the … grass. The aroma of a freshly mowed lawn is abundant where Miller is from, but not where he lately has been.
“I think what I’ve come to realize is: more doesn’t mean better. Being able to have balance to enjoy moments, life outside of the job, to enjoy the game as what it is …” Miller said, as we conversed over our meals in early June. “Yesterday was the first time I was really on the court. We were beginning our summer program, and I really enjoyed it. I could have stayed out there all day.”